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Cougars defeat Beavers to cap best hoops weekend in years

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Basketball may be fun again!

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Back in September, before the new era of Washington State Cougars Basketball began, the school announced that January 18 would be date on which it would raise Klay Thompson’s Cougar jersey up to the Beasley Coliseum rafters, marking just the second time WSU would retire a basketball player’s number. Given recent Cougar hardwood history, the game itself seemed almost incidental to honoring WSU’s greatest and most famous basketball alum ever.

Isaac Bonton, CJ Elleby and Noah Williams had other ideas. The triumvirate of Cougs, only one of whom was on the roster last season, combined for 73 points, 18 rebounds and every one of WSU’s 16 assists in an 89-76 win over the Oregon State Beavers. Bonton stood out above the other two, scorching the Beavers with a near triple-double line of 34 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He befuddled OSU down the stretch with repeated dribble drives that led to easy Jeff Pollard layups.

As someone who has rarely paid attention to WSU Basketball over the last few years - for a variety of reasons - the read on Bonton was that he’s, to put it kindly, streaky. The thing is, when he is on, it seems to lift the entire team. Saturday night was no different. Despite his struggles in the Bay Area, Kyle Smith stuck with him, saying this after the game:

“Before every game, we sit down and watch 15 to 20 minutes worth, just 1-on-1 and we’ll keep doing that,” Smith said. “He was struggling earlier in the season. Analytically in practice, he was our best guy. So I said, that guy gets extra rope to try to figure it out and I’m glad he stayed with it. Today was a nice reward.”

You are right coach, it was quite a reward. What’s more is that Bonton almost singlehandedly kept OSU at bay when they tried to climb back into it down the stretch. Despite handling the ball for a majority of each possession, he turned the ball over just twice and went a perfect 14-14 from the foul line. As a team, the Cougars sank 25-27 foul shots. Maybe they finally hired a free throw coach?

When Bonton’s midcourt heave somehow went in, causing this reaction from Steph Curry - YO STEPH CURRY WAS IN PULLMAN ROOTING FOR THE COUGS WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING - I was somewhat perplexed as to how WSU was ahead, let alone by two possessions.

Vertical video aside, that was pretty great!

I was amazed that WSU had carved out a halftime lead because OSU’s offense was absolutely slicing the Cougs to ribbons. Seemingly every time I looked up, OSU was taking an uncontested shot inside five feet. At halftime, the Beavers were 17-30 from the field and I was honestly stunned that they’d missed 13 shots. Luckily, the Cougs were nearly their equal, going 15-30. More importantly, WSU was 5-11 beyond the arc while the Beavers were 0-4. For the game, OSU outscored WSU in the paint, 54-32.

I don’t know what Kyle Smith did and/or said at halftime, but he definitely cooked up the right recipe. The Cougs turned up the defensive intensity - limiting OSU to 14-32 shooting - while maintaining their efficient ways on the offensive end.

Just as importantly, WSU did an outstanding job of turning OSU mistakes into points. The Beavers turned the ball over just nine times (Nine times? Nine. Times.) but WSU converted those turnovers into 16 points. That’s pretty good! The Cougs also resembled the old Showtime Lakers of the 80s, outscoring OSU 29-4 on fast break points.

In sum, the underdog Cougars did everything in their power to overshadow a day that was supposed to focus on Klay Thompson. Despite the tremendous effort, I’m still not sure if they succeeded. That should tell you how overpowering Klay’s presence was on Saturday.

One thing I wonder about: Is this weekend even possible if Thompson doesn’t suffer a serious knee injury last season? Funny how things work.

Thompson’s metamorphosis from his arrival in Pullman as a shy, skinny kid with a deadly jump shot has been nothing short of amazing. Even from his final season at WSU in 2011, he looks and sounds like a completely different person. On some level, he probably is still the shy introvert that he was all those years ago - childhood traits rarely leave us entirely - but holy smokes is he ever good at overcoming it.

I mean, he took the mic three different times during halftime! My favorite part was number two when he stole it to let everyone know that he forgot to thank mom and dad. I can just imagine what was going through mom’s head when Klay concluded his first speech. Probably something like, “All those goddamn rides to practices, games, camps and everything else, and we don’t even get a mention?!” Ok I doubt she thought that, but she had the right to!

One of the many far more talented writers will probably put together a “Klay’s weekend in Pullman” post in the next day or so - touching at least partly on how an athletic department with a long history of botching even the easiest of PA layups absolutely nailed the weekend - so I’ll just share my two favorites.

The first was the second half “interview” that Klay conducted with the broadcast team. I put that word in quotes because it was basically two guys trying to ask him questions while he talked over them, rooting on the Cougs from the booth. Bonton rose for a long three-pointer, and Klay shouted (paraphrasing), “that’s from deep!” as it swished through the net. Shortly afterward, Bonton was beaten off the dribble and picked up a foul. Klay shouted, “You can’t reach Isaac! That’s ok though.” The entire segment followed this path and it was hilarious.

Later on, the sideline reporter was interviewing new WSU football coach Nick Rolovich when this happened:

Just the goddamn best.

Saturday’s events capped quite a three-day stretch for Cougar Athletics. First, the school formally welcomed head football coach Nick Rolovich on Thursday afternoon. Then, the basketball team went out that night and took down the 8th-ranked Oregon Ducks. Finally, Klay Thompson was in the house on Saturday to watch the Cougs pull off their first Pac-12 home sweep since 2013. You read that correctly.

Next, Kyle Smith leads the Cougs into the mountains, where they have never emerged victorious as members of the Pac-12 (0-14). Hopefully that changes soon. But if you want to feel a little better, have a look at a portion of the current basketball standings.

All the king’s lottery picks, and all the king’s bag men don’t seem to be having their intended effect.

Go Cougs

Basketball

With chip on his shoulder, Washington State guard and Portland native Isaac Bonton lights up Oregon State on 34-point night | The Spokesman-Review
Bonton followed the Ducks growing up and latched onto players like Tajuan Porter and Brandon Lincoln.

Vince Grippi: Nearly a decade after leaving Washington State, Klay Thompson proud as ever to be a Cougar | The Spokesman-Review
Saturday, it was Klay’s turn to win. In every way. And, with more than 10,000 people showing him love, Thompson returned it. With interest.

‘You’re up there forever.’ Capturing the moments of Klay Thompson’s jersey retirement at Washington State | The Spokesman-Review
“I know we’ve done amazing things with the Warriors,” Thompson said. “… But before that started, I came to Pullman and I felt the love here. Before everything happened internationally.”

OSU men's basketball: Defense fails Beavers in loss that leads to road sweep | Basketball | gazettetimes.com
Oregon State couldn’t get enough defensive stops to slow down a Washington State squad fueled by a breakout game from Isaac Bonton and the presence of former Cougar great Klay Thompson.

This Week in Parenting

I spent much of the week on a work trip to Helsinki, and then the 11 year-old high-tailed it to Switzerland for a sledding trip shortly after I got back, so kid interaction was somewhat limited this week. While in Finland, I checked in with the youngest back home.

This is how I felt after reading that:

BTW he’s currently using his newly-received tablet to check out the street view of Martin Stadium. Getting dusty in here.

Thursday is the day from hell around our household, as I am on base from dawn til dusk between work, basketball practice and Scouts. The latter did produce a few good moments, as the 11 year-old advanced in rank while the youngest showed off his considerable academic prowess when he spotted the following sign on the window:

The lightbulb then activated in his little head.

“Hey dad, if you switch two of the letters around, it spells IPA.”

Top ten proudest moment of fatherhood thus far.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: Mrs. Kendall joined me for the latter half of the Helsinki trip, and we dined at a Georgian (the country, not the state) restaurant Tuesday evening. I agreed to temporarily suspend Dry January while there, and tried a couple beers I’d never had. One of them was Baltika #6 Porter, and it was quite good. Turns out this particular beer is produced in St. Petersburg, Russia. I don’t know if/how consuming a Russian-made beer will affect my security clearance, but I’ll probably take the chance again if able to do so.

America’s Bad Taste in Beer Is Prohibition’s Legacy - WSJ
The 13 dry years were followed by a long century of bland-tasting, mass produced brews.

Non-Sports

The wrong house - The Informant
Neo-Nazis got caught up in a case of mistaken identity in Michigan. Now the FBI is involved.